How to Start a Food Import Business in the UAE

Each year millions of tourists come to Dubai and UAE for vacation and millions arrive to live, work and do business in the country. UAE cannot produce alone that much food products, therefore, food imports is thriving in the country. As a result, food trading company set-up is very much in demand today.



   Currently many food trading companies are registered both in free zones and in mainland. A free zone company cannot distribute goods all across the emirate on its own and trade can take place inside the free zone only. Food products can move further from the port to the mainland in two cases: first being, you, as a free zone company, trade directly with a local entity that holds import/export license. The main term of trade between you shall be clearing of goods through customs by this mainland company. Second being, concluding and agreement with a logistics company that would take care of clearing food items and delivering them to your clients in the mainland.  If you want to keep a large stock in your warehouse and deliver and distribute products independently, you would require a local company to do this. In light of this, before you register a free zone or a local company you need to answer the following questions: do you want to distribute products on your own, as you will have a large database of clients to deliver them to, or you can engage a third party mainland company that can take care of customs clearance and deliveries.

   Sometimes a free zone company, especially in the northern emirates, can be the most suitable option for a start-up, costswise. However, you should also remember to plan the growth of your free zone entity. Often free zones are not located in a close proximity to the warehouses or you decide to move to Dubai from the northern emirate in some time, so you need to close down the company and open a new one in Dubai. Think your strategy through, before you initiate company set-up process.


   The process of company registration, be it a local/mainland company or a free zone entity, will be the same, as described in the previous chapters. You do not need to take care of any certifications or laboratory tests throughout company incorporation process. Initially, you just follow the steps to register a company. Once your food trading company is established, it is high time to get ready for the import of your first batch of food products. Now, let’s discuss, which steps you will be taking, moving forward.


   As soon as your company is registered, we recommend that you register with your local chamber of commerce and obtain a relevant certificate. In case you are incorporated in Ras Al Khaimah, you will approach RAK Chamber of Commerce, in Dubai it will be Dubai Chamber of Commerce. This will allow you to participate in many initiatives of the chamber of commerce, grow your business network and avail of the services provided by the chamber.


   Before you bring food products in the UAE, which usually arrive via Jebel Ali Port, you first need to register with the special unit of Dubai Municipality, Food Control Department, and in particular in FIRS system, which stands for Food Items Registration and Label Assessment. Registration takes place on Dubai Municipality web-site, where you can also find very detailed guide on the online registration process. To get the access to FIRS system you will first need to complete online application form, provide all company details, upload your trade license, then visit Dubai Municipality to make the payment and finally receive the access to the system. From then onwards you will be using FIRS system for raising food imports and food import for re-export requests, for follow-ups on any fines and fees, for registration of food items and label assessment and more.


   Before you raise any import request, you will have to register the food items you plan to import and undergo food label assessment. You can do this separately, or register your foods items and undergo label assessment simultaneously.


   During the item registration process, you will need to provide exact details on the products you will import. Additionally, you will need to upload certificates from the laboratory, showing which ingredients and in which quantity the products you are planning to trade with contain. To obtain the certificates you will need to submit food samples directly to Food & Environment Section in Dubai Central Laboratory in Al Karama area. Samples must be stored and transported safely to the lab in order to not effect final results. Samples Quantity depends on the test requested for the sample and you can enquire directly with the lab, as the required quantity varies from one food item to another one. Test duration will depend on the type of test required for the product, but in general it takes around 5 working days to issue the final report. Fees for tests vary and are paid directly at the laboratory.


   Once the registration of products is completed, you are fine to proceed with label assessment.

Here you will be providing labels for checking if they are compliant with standards and supply some other relevant information.


   In case the registration and label assessment is successful, you will receive the relevant message on the portal. If rejected, there may be several reasons for the same: additional approvals from consumer section or ministry of health should be sought, label information provided was not clear, banned ingredients can be found and some others. All rejection reasons are also mentioned in the FIRS guide on the web-site of Dubai Municipality.


   If you are planning to trade with some specific food items, additional food health certificates may be required. The same will be also managed through the FIRS system.


   As soon as all registration processes are completed, you are ready to proceed with raising your first import request. Just follow instructions in the FIRS system: indicate port of entry, provide airway bill no, arrival date of the consignment and the country of origin, as well as state all other required details.


   Once goods arrive and before you can clear them, they will be most probably inspected to ensure that they are compliant with standards and that they are in line with all that information, that you provided previously in FIRS system. Next you will pay customs duty, which is set for most products at a rate of 5 %, and then you will take it from there.


Food import procedure may seem convoluted from the start, but as you go and repeat all those steps, we just mentioned, several times, you will see that the process of importing food items is pretty much straightforward.  


    If you want to know more about Dubai freezone company formation, feel free to get in touch with our professional consultant team and we would be delighted to assist you and help you to compare Dubai freezone company setup costs and help you to find that free zone, which would suit your business needs the most.


 Disclaimer: Business Boutique is not affiliated with any particular government or legal entity. Business Boutique does not give professional legal advice nor any other professional advice subject to a public office in the government. This article merely sets out a simple and basic idea as to the reasons of Dubai freezone company setup and Dubai free zone company formation cost. Business Boutique in no way holds nor imposes any official governmental or legal authority and the article herein is only to be taken as a guide. All further governmental or legal issues should be addressed to the corresponding authorities.

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